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Title:Jean-Michel Basquiat's Language
Author(s):Saggese, Jordana Moore
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Fineberg, Jonathan
Department / Program:Art and Design
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):American Studies
Black Studies
Art History
Abstract:Previous analyses of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960--88) tend to focus on decoding these drawings and paintings, while almost completely ignoring those elements that cannot be tied to a specific (and static) iconography or historical lineage of influence. Yet, the iconographic isolation of specific symbols and icons considers neither how the visal and verbal signs within these works constitute meaning nor what they may reveal about Basquiat's own artistic concerns. For this body of work, it is not enough to decode signs and symbols; we must also try to discern meaning in their interactions and in the artist's protocols of construction. Following the title of this dissertation, I approach Basquiat's work as a complete (and partially unknown) language that must be considered on its own terms.
My methods rely on similar examples in the studies of music and literature, specifically those of bebop improvisation and Beat writing, which have already moved beyond simple description to consider the formulation of meaning. As Basquiat was also a musician and a writer, the connections of these disciplines to his own visual practice are significant. In theories of musical improvisation the emphasis lies not in locating the origin of particular musical notes; instead, scholars focus on the combinations of those notes in different performative contexts and find meaning in the organization of appropriated material. In Beat literature the methods of text-collage highlight the flexibility of language, and create entirely new narratives through a blend of borrowed ones. Most importantly, the focus of these studies in music and literature is not necessarily analyzing every note or letter in isolation; instead, the dominant theories of bebop improvisation and Beat literature look into the patterns created by the combinations of these singular elements. In a similar vein, I do not focus exclusively on iconography or on decoding every element of Basquiat's paintings and drawings throughout this dissertation. Rather, I attempt to find meaningful patterns within specific works that speak to the artist's processes of composition.
In the second chapter I consider the implications of reading race into Jean-Michel Basquiat's production; Basquiat's blackness is an issue not only in the scholarship surrounding these works, but is in the works themselves. The third chapter seeks to describe parallels between the working protocols in Basquiat's compositional methods in painting and drawing to those of jazz. The final chapter examines Basquiat's connections to the literary strategies of the "Beat" writers, principally Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, who provided models of spontaneity and collage, and who negotiated identity in ways that Basquiat could not have found exclusively in his visual sources. Throughout this dissertation I argue that Basquiat's works are "multivocal" and operate on multiple levels of reference and perception; therefore, the words or images on the surfaces do not represent only one specific concept. They generate a multiplicity of ideas.
Issue Date:2008
Description:239 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI3337912
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-17
Date Deposited:2008

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